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NHL’s expansion decision gets varied reaction in media

The announcement that the NHL was coming to Las Vegas, though expected, started a flurry of activity Wednesday.

Many local residents cheered while hockey fans in Quebec City, who had their bid for a team deferred, were left out in the cold. With expansion now official, here’s a quick rundown of some of the reactions in the media:

Chris Peters of CBS Sports put together a potential roster for the Las Vegas team based on the NHL expansion draft rules.

He found the new team is probably going to have a hard time finding goal scorers, as teams will look to protect their top six forwards. The franchise could draft some veterans with tougher contracts while also filling depth slots with younger, less expensive options that could have some upside.

Peters also found there likely won’t be a ton of productive blueliners available, especially ones with right-handed shots. Las Vegas might opt for experience on the back end in the expansion draft and try to find higher-upside options elsewhere, he wrote.

For goaltenders, Peters thought the team’s best option might be to grab a stop-gap starter for a year or two while taking some younger guys that could start down the road. He drafted Jimmy Howard of Detroit to fill the veteran role.

If fans want to run their own mock draft, there’s a simulator at generalfanager.com.

Scott Burnside of ESPN said new owner Bill Foley might be “the most interesting man in hockey.” The head of the NHL’s 31st franchise will take the league into uncharted territory, creating the first major pro sports team in Vegas.

The businessman, while not strictly a “hockey guy,” will be involved and demanding, Burnside wrote, and can already sense the enthusiasm for his new team.

Last month while having a burger with his wife and children an 11- or 12-year-old boy approached Foley’s table and told him he was rooting for him to get a hockey team. Now that kid has his wish.

* Eric Macramalla of Forbes said Richard Peddie, the former President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, is not a fan of the NHL’s decision.

Peddie was involved in projects like the Air Canada Centre (home of the Toronto Maple Leafs), Toronto FC and their home, Leafs TV, and Raptors TV and called expanding to Las Vegas a “bad mistake.”

“The NHL owners are going to regret it. It’s not a great community economically,” Peddie said. “Fan avidity will not develop.”

* Don Macpherson of the Montreal Gazette wrote one reason Quebec City might have lost out is the NHL’s unwillingness to break up one of its big money-making markets.

The Montreal Canadiens’ revenue was $219 million in the 2014-15 season, second in the league according to Forbes, with Quebec City as part of their television market. A potential Quebec City franchise would be a small-market team with only a small profit, and it would cut into the profits of Montreal.

Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said publicly he would welcome a rival team in Quebec City, but he voted to expand to Las Vegas along with the NHL’s other 29 owners.

* Sean McIndoe of The Guardian ran through many of the pros and cons of a Vegas team.

He wrote the city seems ready for a major pro sports team, but the NHL seems like a weird choice to start. The league has struggled when it gets creative in the past, such as when it moved into southern markets like Atlanta or Arizona.

McIndoe also questioned the team’s fan base and how it’s going to be built in the city. He asks “if you lived in Vegas, surrounded by all the most over-the-top entertainment options you could imagine, would you really be lining up to see an expansion team exchange neutral zone turnovers with the Edmonton Oilers in November?”

* Kevin Allen of USA Today called Las Vegas “a smart, sexy pick” for an NHL expansion location.

Allen said having a team in Vegas is free international marketing because of all the visitors the city attracts. The city also has a tradition of hockey in the minor leagues and its youth hockey is up 37 percent in the last decade.

The NHL has also had success in non-traditional markets, he said.

“The Florida-based Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers are the best teams in the Atlantic Division, the Los Angeles Kings have won two Stanley Cups since 2012 and the Anaheim Ducks won in 2007. The San Jose Sharks were in the Stanley Cup Final this month.”

* And Jamie Strashin of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation wrote “by many sensible metrics, putting an NHL team in Las Vegas will be a giant struggle.”

He wonders whether the Vegas franchise will fare any better than the teams in Carolina, Columbus, Arizona and Florida which continue to just tread water. Arizona in particular “has been a story on bankruptcy, civic disputes, shrinking attendance and waning interest” in its decade-plus existence.

Strashin said any success for the team “will be difficult and hard-earned.”

Contact Ben Gotz at bgotz@reviewjournal.com.

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